J O H N
C O N S T A B L E
B I O G R A P H Y
- JOHN CONSTABLE (1776-1837)
- John Constable Large Canvas Prints
He was, with Turner, the major English landscape painter of the 19th-century. He first exhibited in 1802, but achieved only limited recognition, not becoming an ARA until 1819 (RA 1829). His comment on the Suffolk countryside, 'These scenes made me a painter', takes little account of his skill in composition and his brilliant use of chiaroscuro as a unifying factor.
In 1806 he travelled in the Lake District, but he was happiest with the vivid, dewy greens of water-meadows and mills, under fresh, windy skies, his deep knowledge of which he owed, not only to his early life as a miller's son, but to the sky studies made under the influence of Luke Howard's The Climate of London (1818-20).
In 1824 his Haywain (shown at the Academy in 1821; now London, NG) and a View on the Stour were awarded a Gold Medal at the Paris Salon, and the great success of these and other works imported into France had an appreciable effect on the development of the Barbizon School, and on the painting of the Romantic Movement - Delacroix, for instance, was greatly impressed by them.
He left few successors. The greatness of his art lies in the fact that it appears to be a spontaneous and immediate transcription of the scene before him, whether in Suffolk, on the Dorset coast, at Salisbury, or on Hampstead Heath, but it is actually a deeply pondered reconstruction of nature, modified by his close study of Claude and of the tradition inherited from Dutch 17th-century landscape painters such as Ruisdael, and by his admiration for Gainsborough's view of nature, both in the early, Dutch-inspired, Cornard Wood period, and the later, poetic, Market Cart type. He was the last great painter in this tradition, except, perhaps, for Wilson Steer. After him, Turner's 'airy visions, painted with tinted steam' - the description is Constable's - and the meticulous detailing of the Pre-Raphaelites exploited different, and contradictory, attitudes to nature.
Two of his sons, John Junior and Lionel (1825-87), also painted, and some of their landscapes have become confused with their father's, although these are now being re-attributed. George Constable, an amateur of Arundel, did not disdain to profit from the accidental similarity of name.
A large collection of Constable's works was bequeathed to the V&A, London, by his daughter, and this is the touchstone for all attributions. There are other examples in Boston, Cambridge (Fitzwm), Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dublin, Dunedin NZ, Edinburgh (NG), Hartford Conn., Leeds, Le Mans, London (NG, BM, RA, Tate, Guildhall, Courtauld Inst.), Manchester, Montreal, New York (Met.Mus.), Ottawa, Oxford (Ashmolean), Philadelphia (Mus.), San Marino Cal., Toledo Ohio, Toronto, Washington (NG, Corcoran, Phillips), Worcester Mass. and Yale.
- Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
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